Alexandra Zarini, the 35-year-old granddaughter of Aldo Gucci, the man who turned a small Italian artisanal company into a global fashion brand, has filed a lawsuit in a US court alleging that her stepfather sexually abused her over a period of 16 years.
The action, filed in the California superior court in Los Angeles, describes years of sexual abuse from her former stepfather, Joseph Ruffalo, and complicity and a cover-up on the part of her mother, Patricia Gucci, and grandmother Bruna Palombo.
Zarini’s lawsuit alleges that Ruffalo, a music-industry player who has worked with Prince and Earth, Wind & Fire, subjected her to sexual abuse from the age of six to when she was about 22.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by the New York Times, alleges Ruffalo regularly got into bed naked with her, fondled her and attempted to penetrate her with his hands. Zarini further alleges he exposed his own genitals to her and rubbed them against her.
Zarini also claims that Patricia Gucci not only allowed her former stepfather to continue the alleged molestation but that Palombo instructed her “to keep quiet and cover them up”, the lawsuit states.
Both women, Patricia Gucci and Palombo, the lawsuit continues, “tried to avoid, at all costs, what they perceived would be a scandal that could tarnish the Gucci name and potentially cost them millions”.
The lawsuit also accuses her mother of hitting and sometimes trying to strangle her daughter. Her then husband, Ruffalo, would then “rescue” his stepdaughter and allegedly abuse her under the pretense of being her protector.
Zarini claims she knew abuse was coming when she heard the ice clinking in his glass of scotch as Ruffalo made his way toward her bedroom. She also claims Ruffalo encouraged her in the use of cocaine and crystal meth.
“If you think this doesn’t happen here in Beverly Hills, then you should know that my perpetrator still lives in California, spends time at the Bel-Air country club and volunteers in your children’s hospitals,” Zarini said in a video released by her lawyers.
“This is not something that only happens to other families, other neighborhoods or other countries. It is everywhere.”
The paper confirmed that Zarini had filed a report outlining alleged abuse with the Beverly Hills police department. The paper confirmed that the police file remains open. The filing of the 21-page lawsuit was paired with the launch of the heiress’s anti-child abuse non-profit, the Alexandra Gucci Children’s Foundation.
In a statement Patricia Gucci said she was “deeply sorry for the pain Joseph Ruffalo caused Alexandra”.
“What he did to her is inexcusable and I was devastated when she disclosed everything to me at our family doctor’s office in London in September 2007. I immediately initiated divorce proceedings against Mr Ruffalo and set about healing my family through counseling.”
However, Patricia Gucci, who lives in Switzerland, denied Zarini’s allegations against her and Palombo. “I am equally devastated by the allegations against me and her grandmother, which are completely false,” she told the paper.
A legal representative for Ruffalo said that his client had not been served with legal papers and could not respond directly to the allegations. “What he has been informed of, he vehemently and categorically denies,” Richard Crane, the lawyer, said.
Crane added that while married to Zarini’s mother, both “were greatly concerned about the mental wellbeing of Alexandra and took steps to address her instability”.
“Apparently, their efforts failed,” Crane added.
The lawsuit adds a new chapter of controversy to the storied Gucci family, which relinquished its stake in the business in 1993. The Gucci brand is currently owned by the French luxury conglomerate Kering, which reported more than $18bn in revenue in 2019. About $11bn of that is attributed to Gucci.
Over the years, the Gucci family has been embroiled in tax evasion, feuds and murder.
In 2016, Zarini’s mother published a memoir, In the Name of Gucci that detailed how her mother and father, Aldo Gucci, who was already married with a family, kept their relationship secret.
In 1986, Gucci, then 81, was convicted of tax evasion and served a year in prison. His daughter subsequently married, had two children including Alexandra, divorced and then started a relationship with Ruffalo.
Also in the family’s file of dysfunction is a plot to murder Maurizio Gucci, grandson of patriarch Guccio Gucci and the one-time head of the fashion house, orchestrated by his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani.
Reggiani was tried and convicted of orchestrating her ex-husband’s assassination on the steps of his office in Italy in 1995, gaining the nickname the Black Widow during the trial. Reggiani served 18 years before being released from prison in 2016. That story is currently being dramatized in a film starring Lady Gaga and directed by Ridley Scott.
In the US, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673 or by chat at www.rainn.org. In the UK, Supportline can be reached at 01708 765200. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732) or 1800respect.org.au. Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html.